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Shepherd’s Hut Redux And Woodworking Kilts

November 14, 2014

I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

My dad used to hang barn paintings by a local artist in his doctor’s office; now I hang some of those very paintings over the mantle in my house. I have a few (… or five) 4-Runner Matchbox cars on my desk at work in remembrance of the SUV I should have never sold. The kitchen counter my grandfather made out of recycled maple pallet wood 40 years ago for our 100 year old farmhouse is currently in my garage, ready to be repurposed as a counter down in my workshop (if I can maneuver it through the house in one piece). I could go on for some time, as you might be able to imagine.

So when Charlie Laidlaw sent me a link to an article about the Chippendale International School of Furniture bringing the idea of the shepherd’s hut back to life (New Lease Of Life For Historic Shepherd’s Hut – you should absolutely read the article; it’s very well written), I was immediately drawn to it.

Doesn't that look cozy?

Doesn’t that look cozy?

And as I read through the article, I couldn’t help but picture a slightly larger version of this sitting in my backyard as a workshop or maybe a little hunting shack or blacksmith shop on my brother’s farm. Honestly, it didn’t take much for me to envision having one of these on a sheep ranch… in Scotland. (Not entirely sure how easily my wife would be able to envision that, however.)

The other bit of greatness I want to point out in the article is the man posing as a shepherd in the pictures. That is Anselm Fraser, the Principal of the Chippendale School. And he is wearing a kilt. Not just any kilt, though…

Fraser Tartan, Wooden...

Fraser Tartan, Wooden…

He wears kilts made out of wood! I think someone just upped the ante on me. I’m afraid I’ll probably have to fold for this hand, Anselm; I have way too much on my plate at the moment. But maybe sometime down the road I’ll go all in and we’ll see how well the Campbell tartan translates into wood.

I will also be flagging the Chippendale School for later reference. They offer a class called the Chippendale Experience Course, which is a week-long furniture making class. Let’s see… spending a week in a Scottish school set in the farmlands of East Lothian, learning how to make things out of wood from a man in a wooden kilt?

That sounds about right up my alley.


Monsieur Pot de Vis, What Have You Done For Me?

November 10, 2014

Like the beeswax I picked up for almost nothing last month, I snagged a jar of old screws about a year ago when I was at an estate sale because it seemed a deal too good to pass up. I had no immediate use for the screws, but I knew they were old, and old is better when you’re talking woodworking screws – older screws often used stronger steel and stronger steel means fewer broken screws and cammed-out heads.

Last month, I was trying to clean up the clutter-bench (relic of the previous owner; it isn’t useful for anything besides putting stuff on, so that’s what will happen until I tear it down and remove it) and I spotted the jar. I picked it up and stared at it for a minute, wondering if it was something I really needed to keep or if I’d wasted a dollar. I put it back down, thinking I’d hold on to it a bit longer.

Now we have to go back in time, about six months, to pick up the thread for the rest of the story.


Ye olde coate hoak

Ye olde coate hoak

One day early this summer, I was looking through the inventory of a store on my most frequented on-line auction site. I’d picked up some antique hardware from them in the past and I wanted to see if something there might strike my fancy for a future project I had in mind. I came across just the thing I wanted – an old, cast iron coat hook with some nice detail work. It even came with mounting screws! They only had one listed, so I bought it.

The next week, the seller listed one exactly like it. Dang; wish I’d known that before! I contacted them to find out if they had any additional ones, but they said no. For some reason, though, I didn’t immediately buy the second one. I saved the listing and sat on it, thinking.  I do that sometimes and, after a few months or a year, I might delete the listing or suddenly buy it because I finally have it figured out in my head as to whether or not I’ll use it. That’s just how I work.

Now, once again, we move forward in time…


This second coat rack sat in my Saved Listings box until last week, when I had some extra funds handy and I’d finally decided to go ahead with the project and bought it. When the package showed up, I pulled the coat hook out to give it a better look. It was just like the other one – old, cast iron, exact same casting, with remnants of a bronze wash on parts of it – so much so, that it is easy to assume they were together in their previous home, as well.

Almost like a cartoon or a bad comedy, I squeezed open the manila envelope it came in and turned it upside down to get the mounting screws. And nothing came out. I couldn’t stop myself from looking inside to confirm it was empty. Indeed, it was. No screws. Dang.

I pulled out the first coat hook and screws and laid them out next to the second one and pondered them for a bit, as I’m wont to do in such situations. And then I remembered the old French’s Mustard jar of screws I’d considered getting rid of just the week before. I grabbed it off of the clutter-bench, poured the screws out onto my sharpening counter, and sorted through them. And then cackled in glee as I found SIX (6) screws that exactly match the other four! Mine took a bath in Evaporust after I got them, so they have a nicer matte grey look to them, but…

M. Pots De Vis saves the day!

M. Pot de Vis saves the day!

Congratulations, Mr. Jar of Screws, today you have earned your place in my shop.


Post Script Edit: The coat hook project is something for my own shop. I want to do something that is MORE than just a board with some hooks screwed to it. I have an idea forming, but if anyone ELSE has any ideas they’d like to put forth, I’m all ears!

Woodworking In America 2015 – Kansas City

November 7, 2014


Seems like it was just two months ago we were all cavorting about in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at Woodworking In America 2014, doesn’t it? What? You didn’t see me there? Ah, that’s because Winston-Salem was just too much of a drive for me. Sorry.

But WIA 2015 is going to be in Kansas City, Missouri!

Kansas City, Here We Come!

Now that is a drive I can make! What’s more, we have friends in the general area we never get to visit often enough, so we’ll start trying to coordinate something with them and we can turn it into a family trip! Who knows – maybe the little shop helper will make an appearance. It would partially depend on which parental unit he’s favoring that month. It changes. Often. And for no apparent reason.

Anyway, maybe I’ll see you there? You can also look for me in Amana, Iowa, in May of next year, as well!

Handworks 2015

I’m quite excited for the chance to make both events!


A woodworker by any other name…

October 24, 2014

If you haven’t yet stumbled across Darbin Orvar, then you need to step right… over… here.

If you’re more of a watcher and not a reader, then do note she has a very active YouTube channel.

One of her latest videos, which covers 15 uses for bees wax, is not terribly long, but so useful to woodworkers and non-woodworkers alike it requires special consideration. Get a pen and paper and take some notes (or just go to her blog post on the topic), pick up a hotplate and some aluminum pots at Goodwill, and get to it.

Oh, what’s that you say?  You don’t have any leather to care for, outdoor furniture to protect, fabric to waterproof, nails you want to drive easier/faster, matches you want to light in the rain, skin to hydrate, drawers to slide, wooden spoons to recondition, table saw tops to attend, cutting boards to renew, hand saws to make work easier, fires to start, iron to protect from rust or, ummm… oily Danish people to wax?

Yeah, thought so.  I’ll wait while you get your pen.

Big bag of wax

Of course now I totally feel justified in the purchase of this huge bag of bees wax I stumbled across at an estate sale a few weeks ago for $2, even though I have a full pound of it sitting in a bag at home. Sometimes you see a deal and you don’t know quite what you might do with it, but you KNOW it isn’t something you should pass up. (I didn’t have to do anything to justify buying the seven Swiss rifflers for a buck a piece.)

I can also put some of those bottles my wife complains I keep squirreling away to good use!

After you’ve spent a bit of time reading the fun words she writes and listening to the things she says in that great lilted accent, maybe you’ll see what I saw. Not necessarily someone who is a mind-boggling expert in woodworking, but someone:
* with obvious skill and talent
* who is utterly passionate about what she’s doing
* who isn’t afraid to experiment and play around with different techniques
* who loves repurposing and reusing to reduce waste to a bare minimum (she uses the stone dust residue from inside her tile saw to make grout, for Pete’s sake! WOW!)
* who keeps her Bourbon in a crystal decanter
* who has great presence in front of the camera
* who has fun doing what she does
* with a good eye for woodworking design and videography and editing

Most importantly, she is active. She is energy incarnate! You might not be interested in everything she’s doing, but surely something in her shotgun blast of topics is going to catch your eye. And you’re going to be inspired to stop reading my blog (give me just another minute, though! And just at this moment in time; obviously, I don’t want you to forever stop reading the words that I write!) and get out in your shop and just… build! Even if the end result isn’t perfect, even if you don’t have the most expensive and rare tools or a fully decked out shop! Do!  And you’ll learn something and hopefully have fun. She is the embodiment of the motto of that inebriated wooden somethingorother guy… Make Something!

By the way… her name is Linn.  Darbin is the dog.



What Are My Options Again?

September 23, 2014

I’m not doing any commission work at the moment. I have too much other stuff going on, both in the shop and out, to devote the proper time and attention I feel it should receive. But once I get back into the swing of making things for others, one of my first priorities is to write up a semi-formal document that highlights the various options I make available to anyone ordering a box, like wood species, box design, and hardware options.

When I come across something that accomplishes a similar goal and has great visual interest, I take note of it. I’m not sure I’ll do anything this fancy, but I really love what the marketing team for FurnitureUK came up with for their site. It does a fantastic job of helping their customers have a better understanding of the materials used for their furniture. Honestly, a lot of beginning woodworkers might find some of this information useful as well, so I’m including it here.

Don't worry, I got permission to post it...

Don’t worry, I got permission to post it…

They have several creative things on their website I really like, such as their Furniture Through The Ages page. Unless my four year old suddenly turns into a programming savant, I’m afraid I won’t have anything that fancy. But it’s fun to look at.

If you sell commissioned pieces, do you already offer information on what choices a potential customer is able to make? If so, what kind of information do you provide? If you don’t have anything like that, you might consider writing something up!

The Extravagances Of My Hobby, Part One…

August 12, 2014

The Artist...

The artist…

When I turned 40 last year, I decided to celebrate my life thus far with a custom plane from Wayne Anderson. It was a bit of an expense, so sometime around mid-summer of the previous year, I printed out Chris Schwarz’s article about Wayne from back in 2008 (I think) and stuck it up on a wall in my office at work (half the walls are there; you have to imagine the other half… and the door). Then, I stuck a Post-It note next to it with my target goal and started saving.

Sometimes it was gift money and sometimes it was money earned by selling something I’d made or some tools I didn’t need or want; either way, it all went into my secret stash spot (undisclosed for my protection). I crossed off the total and updated the Post-It until I had enough, then I placed my order.

Well… it didn’t exactly go THAT easily. I also picked up the wood I wanted Wayne to use when making my miter plane and shipped it to him for confirmation that it would work. After that, there was a lot of back-and-forth with him as we planned out the details of what I wanted. In the end, I told him what style in which I wanted the plane made. I told him I wanted a plane that would be uniquely mine. I gave him a few extra design ideas, but then I put my faith in the hands of the artist and let him make the plane how he saw fit. The final result was breathtaking.

A Study In Style...

A study in style…

I don’t at all feel the need to justify such a purchase to anyone. Not even my wife, in fact; as long as I don’t use money from the family budget, she couldn’t care less what I buy for my hobby, as long as I’m having fun. But I do enjoy talking about it and if you’re interested in hearing more about it, read on. If you just want to see pictures, then skip the words…

Woodworking is a hobby for me. If your hobby is not fun, then you’re doing it wrong. (This is starting to sound familiar; I don’t want to rehash “But Aren’t You A Woodworker?”, an end-grain article I wrote for Popular Woodworking back in December of 2009, so please do look that up for further background information, if you want it.)

For me, “fun” is being surrounded with tools that speak to me and are comfortable to use when I’m in my shop. I like tools that are personal (or personalized) and for which I have an affinity, because of how they were made, what materials were used, or where they are from. This is why almost everything I own from Blue Spruce Toolworks has a custom curly mahogany handle on it – I sent Dave Jeske the wood I wanted him to use from my own personal stock of curly mahogany I’d gathered up over the years. This is why my favorite slitting gauge is 120 years old and made out of English boxwood with a wonderful mellow patina. This is why my favorite saw is a 100 year old Tyzack dovetail saw that fits my hand like a glove.

Detail of the front...

Detail of the front…

It is the same with my Wayne Anderson smoothing plane. The infill and wedge are made out of bog oak from the west of Ireland, the same Irish county as where some of my ancestors have come from, as I understand it. The shamrock cut-outs in the back are also a reflection of my Irish heritage. The wood selection for the infill is further significant because I use reclaimed bog oak in many of my projects.

... and the back.

… and the back.

The second I unrolled the last bit of bubble wrap from this plane and held the plane in my hands, I had something of a spiritual connection with it. It felt “right” for me to use this tool to aid me in making things with my hands. That kind of feeling is not very easy to describe; I don’t think you can fully understand it until you’ve felt it.

I’ve had the plane for over a year now, yet this is the first I’ve officially said anything about it in blog-form. When I get a new tool, I like to give it fair amount of time in the shop before I write something up about it. This is sometimes a challenge, especially when that tool is so amazing I want to stand on a mountain top and shout its praises! Although first impressions are important, I don’t want to just talk about appearances; I’ve had tools that looked great but their performance was mediocre at best. I want to be able to discuss how it performs and how it sets up and how I use it in the shop, in addition to the fit and finish.

The clover leaf cut-outs...

The clover leaf cut-outs…

When I got the plane home, the first thing I did was crosscut a piece of walnut to clean up the end grain. Man, it was such a good feeling to take a tool that was designed for a specific purpose, use it for that purpose, and have it work exactly the way you expect it to.

To make myself comfortable with it, I removed and set up the plane iron several times before I sharpened the blade. With the way Wayne designs his lever caps and uses them in combination with the wedge, I had the blade set up and taking end grain shavings again in a matter of seconds, it was that easy. Since then, I’ve taken it apart and put it back together about 10 times now, even though I’ve only had to touch up the blade once.

Over the last year, I’ve used it quite often. Though I keep it clean, I decided to let it keep its patina as a record of honest use. This isn’t some trophy I stuck up on a shelf to admire…

Fresh out of the box...

Fresh out of the box…

Showing its age...

Showing its age…

You can use it for smoothing non-figured face grain, but it excels at slicing end-grain so cleanly you can see a reflection in it.* I built a dedicated 90 degree shooting board for it that gives me perfectly square end-grain with little effort. (I still need to get around to either adding a modification to it or making a completely separate shooting board for 45 degree cuts.)

Dedicated shooting board

Dedicated shooting board

I’ve also used it off the shooting board and it works just as well. I have a finely-tuned Stanley low angle block plane that was my go to plane for end grain for many years. I tried to compare the two side-by-side, but it just didn’t seem fair. The miter plane out-shined the lighter block plane in every test by a huge margin. I still use the block plane in some instances, though, like when I had to do some on-site work at Finley’s school the other week. I guess I’m not quite comfortable taking my miter plane out for walks just yet.

Fruits of my labor...

Fruits of my labor…

So my love of this plane isn’t purely for aesthetic reasons; there are certainly some mechanical advantages to the heavier miter plane. For me, it’s a complete package, a combination of ease and comfort that makes my woodworking more enjoyable. You can add to that the fact I am the owner of a completely unique piece of woodworking history. I could set my plane down on a table with 150 other Wayne Anderson planes and immediately pick it out from the others. Plus, barring some extreme trauma or apocalyptic event, I have the only miter plane I will hopefully be using for the next 40 years. After that, my son will finally be able to touch it and can use it for as long as he wants, as well.

I’m sure others will find they get the appropriate level of enjoyment out of their woodworking without having such a plane in their shop. I understand that; I get it. There are people out there who cook on a $1500 grill and need (relative term) a $10,000 Man Cave in order to watch sports with their friends. I don’t belittle them for spending their money on what they want, even though I do just fine with my $125 grill from Walmart and a moderately-sized flat screen TV in a regular old family room. I don’t waste any time wondering if those people would belittle me for my “extravagant” plane. To be honest with you, I don’t care. This isn’t their hobby – it’s mine (see paragraph 5).

I guess the only drawback to my miter plane is that now I have the desire to show up at the next Wayne Anderson Plane Reunion. And I can pretty much guarantee you I’m not going to wait until my 50th birthday before I send Wayne some more wood and a check for another plane. This time I have my eye on one of his smaller smoothing planes. It will be worth every penny I’m already starting to save.

*Possibly a slight exaggeration.

(Editor’s Note: The blog title says “Part One” because I’m sure at some point I’ll write about some of my other tools that are more than just useful tools in my shop. They aren’t necessarily uber-expensive tools, but maybe extravagances in other ways. I don’t have anything in mind just yet, but… you never know.)


Oh, You Made Contact!

August 5, 2014

I love Monty Python. There has been nothing quite like it ever since, though John Kleese and Michael Palin have certainly come close with such films as A Fish Called Wanda and it’s equal, Fierce Creatures.

One of my favorite scenes from Fierce Creatures is when Willa has just come back from a jog and ends up in a room with Jambo the gorilla. Jambo gets out of his cage to get some bananas and they have a moment of connection. Willa makes first contact and she finally realizes what it is all about.


The other day I made some shelves for Finley’s school. It is a Montessori school and the elementary kids are set up in a converted split-level house. Aside from some changes for fire code and the like, it is pretty much just… well, a house, which is the kind of environment Maria Montessori promoted. But the kids needed shelving for lunch bags more than they needed a wine rack, so the latter had to go.

I couldn’t just cut some boards to size and set them on cleats, though, could I? This was an opportunity to pull out my latest purchase from Josh Clark, a small ogee molding plane, and put a profile on the front edge of each shelf.

photo courtesy of Josh Clark

photo courtesy of Josh Clark

With Michael Dunbar’s book on restoring tools at my side, I disassembled the plane and looked it over. When I sighted down the sole with the iron sticking out, it made a good halo of the profile, so I figured I just needed to wax the sole and get the iron back to sharp. I flattened the face of the iron and used ceramic profiled hones to try and touch up the bezel. At first, I was worried about changing the profile by working it too much, but later realized I shouldn’t have been after trying to change the profile with them on another moulding plane. It isn’t easy to do!

I took a bit of time making sure the wood I used had clear front edges and then cut them to size with hand saws. I used the bandsaw to rip some cleats and cleaned everything up with hand planes. I was a little unsure of one of the shelves – the large triangular one destined for a space just next to where the wine rack used to be. The vertex opposite the hypotenuse (oh, Geometry, how I’ve missed you!) was just a bit off of 90 degrees, but after thinking it through, I was confident I could get it close and then work on it in situ for a proper fit.

Happiness is... a sharp iron, long shavings, and a crisp profile.

Happiness is… a sharp iron, long shavings, and a crisp profile.

I clamped the first board to the workbench, checked the angle to be sure I had the plane properly sprung, and made the first pass. The shaving was a touch thick, so I backed the iron off just a little and tried again. That reduced resistance, but it still took a good shaving, so I left it there and made some more passes. A minute or two later, the plane stopped cutting. I set it down and examined the results. All it needed was a little bit of sanding to knock off the sharp edges and…

That was when I made contact.

I stopped what I was doing. My eyes wandered from the crisp profile on the front of the shelf to the plane and then to the pile of shavings on the end of the bench. I pulled up a stool and sat at the work bench for a while, giving the old plane a more respectful examination…

photo courtesy of Josh Clark

photo courtesy of Josh Clark

The toe displays stamps by two previous owners, one W.MANN (who overlapped his stamps) and what looks to be a homemade stamp by another owner, R.C. Above those stamps is the maker’s stamp of “I.SYM”. I measured the angle of the iron with a protractor – it was a little over 55 degrees – a hair over cabinet pitch. As I turned the plane over, I could imagine where fingers and hands had pressed into it, adding dirt and grime in some areas and rubbing it smooth in others.

photo courtesy of Josh Clark

photo courtesy of Josh Clark

According to Goodman (British Planemakers from 1700, William Louis Goodman), John Sym was a planemaker in London, England, who worked from 1753 through 1803. Wow. This guy made planes for 50 years during a time when the average life expectancy was just 40! Aside from a few hammer dings and two more overlapping stamps on the heel by our friend, Mr. Mann, it is in remarkably sound shape for a tool that is over 200 years old!

Using a bit of old flannel cloth and some Kramer’s restorer, I gently worked away a bit of the grime and dirt from the top, the ends, and both sides. I wiped it clean with another old flannel cloth – clean, but not “cleaned”. Finally, I cleared some errant bits of wood from the throat and put it away.


The next day, I went to Finley’s school and installed the shelves. I had to make a few minor changes; I’d brought a few of my go-to tools, though, so it wasn’t a big deal. The large triangle-shaped shelf did need some help before it seated properly in place, as I figured it would. So I set it up on my old Stanley Workmate and went at it with the low angle block plane and in no time I had a good fit.

Not bad, not bad at all!

Not bad, not bad at all!

Unfortunately, as soon as I showed up, I realized I was supposed to make TWO (2) shelves for the wine rack area, not one, so I couldn’t finish it that day. But I had exact measurements of the other shelf, which was a perfect fit, so it didn’t take me but 10 minutes to whip out another one, including profiling the edge, later that night. I’ll install it some time this week.

...and one shelf for the really tall lunch bags!

…and one shelf for the really tall lunch bags!

I’m already trying to figure out where I can put that plane to work on a future project. If you’ve looking for a simple profile moulding plane to give this a try, you might check with Josh to see what he has in stock or what he can get for you in the future! I’ve bought several things from him over the years and every transaction has been a pleasant one.

(Thanks to Josh Clark for some great pictures of the plane and the background information on John Sym.)


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